Monday, February 26, 2007

How Do You Go From Centrex To PBX For A Hospital Application?

You have a hosptital with 1000+ Centrex Lines, looking at moving to your own PBX. Its the same old story, new management, fired the telecom manager, handed the phone system to IT, no additional bodies, and now you are suppose to replace it. So what do you do?

Whoever you get the machine from make sure they have the knowledge and experience to do the entire job for you, not just install the PBX and then walk out the door leaving you to cut over.

What you will need to provide is a complete floorplan showing where every phone is located, what the number is on each phone, where every wiring closet is located, the jack numbers will be nice to know (otherwise each one will have to be identified manually by the installation team), the circuit IDs for every line coming into the hospital and where it terminates, there could be more but that is the minimum for a good cut. Be prepared to spend time discussing floor space, power requirements, and telephone features with the vendor.

The vendor should have several people at your site, one or more installing the PBX and one or more cruising through the hospital figuring a plan of attack for the actual cutover. There will be a person doing all the programming, you will talk to that person a lot.

Expect to have a service interruption when the cutover starts so plan for some phones to be in for emergency use, probably using some lines you already have. Coordinate this with your vendor. None of the hospitals I cut over could be done in the daytime always had to start in the evening, expect to still be working when the sun comes up the next day.

If special clearance is needed for certain areas get that arranged ahead of time, don't forget that operating rooms are sometimes considered special areas.

When selecting a system and vendor get them to give you some former customers phone numbers so you can call and find out how good a job they did. Select a vendor that has done larger jobs than yours, you don't want to get a vendor that has never done large jobs before.

Now.....there are two major issues in a hospital enviornment.

1-Wireless mobile stations and WiFi communications then

2 - The seperate video costs of the ISDN lines that are sure to be eating up huge chunks of money each month.

With that I will tell you that replacing Centrex and putting in your own system will save you money even if you totally get taken by a contractor. The costs of Centrex are just out-of-bounds with regards to new IP Tel systems.

Go look at a product by Vocera Communications. You can use it in conjunction with an IP Tel system from Cisco. The Vocera product offers a tone of functionality from login, to paging, to messaging all voice activated and using the same AP's that the mobile workstations were using. Encryption is very high and everything can flow right into a metadirectory project in IT.

The project will be huge no matter what you do, but if you spend your money on traditional PBX infrastructure this late in the life cycle, then you might as well keep the centrex for another year and wait until something else convinces you to go IP. Although I like Cisco.....I would rather have you put in Avaya IP Tel or even Mitel (though I would say they are not fitted for large size installs.....say 500-1000 lines) before seeing you handcuff the hospital with a traditional PBX for the next decade.

And the guy who wants to sell you Centrex IP........yeah, don't you think broadband VoIP is a bit of a stretch for 1000 hospital users with communication needs that require adherence to HIPPA regulations? Asking them to allow any network access to an IP Centrex provider will cause more security headaches than can be saved in administrative headaches of a hosted solution. IP Centrex is not mature enough to handle a project of this magnitude. Once the comm system is on the network the hospital will see all of the added benefits of network integration, data hooks, xml services, mobility, and quite uniquely, E911 ability of a system that can manage itself.

In general....take a step back and don't rush into anything. It's best to take a deep breath and proceed slowly....and smartly.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Set Up Tips For A Virtual Private Network

Many businesses considering a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to cover their internet and database applications share the same set-up concerns. You want to know the most efficient and cost effective approach to get "from here to there". You'll also want to evaluate whether to go with a site-to-site connection or user connection approach. Plus....you'll want some idea of the best options for appropriate hardware.

To help this learning opportunity along let's set-up a realistic practical example....and then address each of the concerns around this scenario.

Here goes:

You have 10 satellite offices spread some distance apart .... each with multiple users .... that you want to connect to a central headquarters location.

For this scenario here's my suggestions to address the most common set-up concerns.....

First.....a Site-to-site connection is best; by having two VPN endpoint routers talk to each other, you can have all the computers behind each router connect as opposed to paying (say) $35 or more for each computer to have a client loaded. Depending upon what router you buy, some come with pre-installed PPTP and IPSEC VPN clients already installed so you're all set.

Next, the type of network connection you are going to be using is a critical element. Such as Cable, xDSL, T1, or DS3. Depending on the size of your usage base (number of users and load each places on your network) you should consider a T1 line as your backbone. You can always scale up as the need arises (to a bonded T1 or DS3) or scale down if warranted (fractional T1). This level of dedicated bandwidth circuit also affords more reliability, stability, and scalability ..... not to mention a QoS (Quality of Service) and SLA (Service Level Agreement) form providers who over these levels of circuits. That makes business sense.

Remember to gauge your budget for hardware, and also determine if there is an expectation for having any folks traveling who'll need remote access. The former I'll address next. The later bears on your circuit size decision discussed above.

For the guts of the network your common choices run the gamut of Linksys, SMC and Netgear; Zywall is another option; and so is OpenVPn, which is script based. The deciding factor will always be "cost" and "ease of configuration." Then again, if you're one who doesn't mind a little work (and you shouldn't if you're in the network game) a little overtime is necessary and worth it with some solutions.

Alright, for hardware here's some ideas......

From the Linksys SOHO/SMB turnkey solution department, I submit the following hardware devices. Many IT managers use Newegg.com for a source because they have good prices (in my opinion).

1) WRV54G - "Severely" underrated. Supports 50 IPSEC VPN tunnels and 5 onboard Quickvpn IPSEC VPN clients; you can upgrade clients from 5 to 50 (yes, it's real VPN). Does not support NAT-T/GRE, so you cannot configure a microsoft VPN server connection with this unit.

2) WRT54GL routers using DD-WRT 24B VPN edition Firmware. It supports both client and server Open VPN. This is very secure and stable. Far less expensive, keeping with the hardware VPN direction, than anything I have found.

3) RV016/042/082 - All support a minimum of 5 IPSEC VPN tunnels (or higher), minimum of 5 quickvpn clients (with upgrade option same as WRV54G). Units support NAT-T/GRE, has onboard PPTP server with 5 clients, and allows you to configure a microsoft VPN server behind it for addtional PPTP/L2TP clients (128 in total).

4) WRVS4400N - Supports 5 IPSEC VPN tunnels, 5 Quickvpn clients (no upgrade option as of yet), and supports NAT=T/GRE. Additionally, you have port based VLAN available, IDS/IPS services, to include email alert, user define-able access control lists, define-able services, supports IPV4/IPV6 for LAN connections, WMM for improved QoS and video/audio. Yes, I'm showing favoritism on this one. I've friends currently testing this and it's looking like the Linksys products of old.

Just visit the Linksys.com website and peruse the Router/VPN Solutions area for business series routers.

Lastly, the following software solutions are free:

1) Monowall - requires an old PC with two NICs (for starters); download image to your computer, burn to a disk, go forth and conquer.

2) Smoothwall - same as Monowall

3) SSL Explorer - SSL solution for vpn

4) OpenVPN - script based vpn

Overall: I prefer hardware solutions so I'm inclined to go with a router that has either an onboard PPTP server or the capability to support NAT-T/GRE. Using hardware reduces the load on having a workstation/server host your VPN, but that doesn't make software solutions any less effective.

Well there you have it. Some practical tips on VPN set-up to help you make a practical business sense decision on the common concerns you'll face. The only thing left is to roll up your sleeves and "just do it".

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Monday, February 19, 2007

What Factors Should You Consider For Bandwidth Quality??

I'd say there are 3 main factors that make up what is commonly called "bandwidth quality" - Settlement, Peering, and Network Capacity.

1 - Settlement - Unless you are buying transit from one of the big boys - IE MCI/UUNet, Sprint, Qwest, Level3, AT&T, Savvis, XO, or another true "tier-1" carrier, you aren't buying "settlement free" bandwidth. Whoever you are buying from has to hand it off to someone else in order to "settle" your data transmission. The more providers you settle to, generally the faster your traffic will reach it's destination, since providers with more settlement routes are able to send your traffic over one providers network more of the time, as long as they have their routing set up properly.

2 - Peering - Peering is similar to settlement, but for our example here we'll define peering as a direct connection to another provider for the purpose of exchanging data without using a 3rd party network. Good examples of this are ISP's that have links to large public peering points, such as PAIX, MAE-West, MAE-East, NYIIX, etc. Anyone connected to one of these public peering points has the ability to peer with any other provider connected to the same peering point. Many tier-2 providers settle a lot of their traffic this way to recuce costs - for example, Peer-1 and He.net. Almost any decent size city has some type of public peering location, and the more of them you are connected to, the more opportunities you have to peer with other providers. There is also private peering, where two providers would establish a private link with one another for the same purpose without ever going through a public exchange, since public peering points can get congested easily at times.

3 - Network Capacity - This is most commonly thought of as being the "pipe size" that any particular provider has going in to a specific area, although there is a bit more involved than that. I would define it to not only inlclude the "pipe size", but also to include quality of their network / switching gear, technology used to transmit data, as well as a few other things. This particular area is the most difficult to ascertain, since you won't always know what type of equipment a provider is using. Just be wary - even if a provider has an OC-48, that doesn't mean the rest of their network infrastructure is able to handle that kind of bandwidth.

This is a subject that would require much more space than we have here to adequately discuss. I'd welcome comments from our loyal readers who have anything to add (or detract) from what I've put out above.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Global Internet Phone Services.....International VoIP Calling From DeltaThree

If you're looking for a broadband phone service with great international calling rates....that can be used anywhere all over the world....and has a long list of most wanted features included....you're in luck.

iConnectHere from DeltaThree Inc. is a full featured broadband phone service that's available most anywhere and has a reputation for offering the best rates in the world. As a matter of fact.....iConnectHere international calling rates are consistently less than BOTH Skype AND Vonnage. Just visit their website and compare for yourself: International Calling

Besides great rates the list of features included will simply make your jaw drop!

As if that's not enough....besides giving you a FREE phone adapter DeltaThree will ship your FREE Linksys PAP2 to just about anywhere in the world for the low price of $4.99 (USD). Who else will ship to New York, Berlin, Bombay, or Manila for less than five dollars (USD)? No matter where you live, iConnectHere is available!

Plus you can choose from broadband phone, PC to Phone, or Virtual Calling Cards to match your international calling needs and preferences.

Some of the features included are: 911 Dialing, Voicemail, Caller ID, Call Forking, Virtual Calling Card, In-Network Calling, 3-Way Calling, Directory Assistance, Call Waiting. Repeat Dial, Do Not Disturb, and MORE.

On top of all that.....DeltaThree will also give you a $30 (USD) signing bonus just for being a new customer. What's that mean? They'll PAY YOU to use their service!

With all that is available from iConnectHere I suggest you drop by their website and look through what they offer for yourself. It'll definitely put a smile on your face....and money in your pocket.

iConnectHere

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Monday, February 12, 2007

IP-Based Digital Video Surveillance Grows Up

Video surveillance has traditionally been a closed-circuit analog affair run by the physical security staff. But with the rise of IP-based digital systems, video surveillance has become another application on the corporate network managed by the IT department.

Motion-activated digital surveillance cameras, including those from Mobotix and Axis, are IP-based and capture better detail than analog cameras, with video footage typically stored in corporate servers and shared over IP networks. But digital cameras tend to be almost double the price of analog cameras, so organizations think twice about throwing their old cameras out. A transition step often involves converting analog to digital streams to transmit video surveillance traffic over corporate LAN and WAN links.

There's much going on in the video surveillance arena....and much more to come. For a complete behind the scenes of past, present, and future read this article at Network World:

Special Focus On Digital Security

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

What Bandwidth Solution Is Right For YOUR Business Application(s)....T1, DS3, Or OC3??

Internet T1

Internet T1 is the standard for businesses seeking mission critical Internet connectivity. Providing up to 1.54 MBps of dedicated bandwidth, it is able to handle the demands of users operating in an increasingly data-centric world.

Target Users:

- Small-Mid Size Companies
- Application Service Providers
- Growing/Startup ISP’s

Internet DS-3

DS-3 circuits provide businesses and ISP’s with up to 45MBps of dedicated Internet connectivity. This is an ideal solution for users who have outgrown their T1 connections and are in search of unlimited, high-capacity access.

Target Users:

- Growing/Mid Size ISP’s
- Mid-Large Enterprises
- Application Service Providers

Internet OC-3 - OC-192

Optical Carrier lines provide content providers, ASP’s/ISP’s and large enterprises with up to 622Mbps of dedicated Internet connectivity. An ideal solution for high end bandwidth users where connectivity is essential for operations.

Target Users:

- Large ISP’s/Enterprises
- Application Service Providers
- Content Providers

For assistance in finding just the right solution for your T1, DS3, or OC3 bandwidth application(s)....comparing multiple providers available in your specific area....we highly recommend the no cost consulting services from: "Bandwidth Solution"

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Monday, February 05, 2007

What's The Difference Between Tier-1-Tier-2-And Tier-3 Bandwidth Providers To Your Business?

"Tiers" in the telecom world tends to have multiple definitions, depending on who you ask. What tier a bandwidth carrier is, is loosely defined at best and everyone has their own opinion of what tier a carrier might be. Here is my opinion:

Tier-1: [may be considered an RBOC or LEC - Regional Bell Operating Company or Local Exchange Carrier]

Tier-1 is a network in which only settlement free peers and customers are serviced. The network operator pays for none of it's transit.

Tier-1 is the optimum network backbone for medium to large businesses with critical reliability, stability, and scalability requirements.

Tier-1 can be an advantage when it comes to handling DDoS attacks: if you ask/configure your Tier-1 provider to null-route an IP they will implement the null-route at their borders, so there is no point of saturation.

Examples of US Tier 1 carriers:

Qwest
AT&T (formerly SBC, Bell South, Southwestern Bell, Ameritech)
Savvis
Verizon (formerly MCI and UUNET)
Global Crossing
Level 3 (recently merged with Broadwing)
NTT Communications

Tier-2: [may be considered a CLEC (Competitive Local Exchange Carrier); has their own network, but also resells tier 1]

Tier-2 is where the network operator buys all or some of it's transit from a Tier-1 and resells it.

Tier-2 can be an advantage if you need someone to provide quality bandwidth, and especially if your need is a single install location. If you buy from Tier-1 #1 in New York, and #1 has a problem with its Tier-1 #2 peering router in New York, then all your traffic from you to #2 may be affected. Your ability to shout at #1 and get them to fix it will be limited, especially if the problem is with #2's border router. A good Tier-2 will monitor its upstreams and their peering points for trouble, and take measures to ensure that it doesn't affect their customers. Even if you need multi-location installs, buying from a good Tier-2 can be useful.

A Tier-2 that only responds to severe problems (e.g. total outage of an upstream link) is no more useful than a Tier-1 to someone who has multi-locations.

Pricing from Tier-2 ISPs is often cheaper at the low-end (e.g. T1). Tier-2's will often beat the tier-1's in pricing "access services". But if you buy in the hundreds of megabits, a Tier-2 is likely to quote much higher than a Tier-1.

Tier-2's are usually smaller companies, and are better able to "make deals", or recognize bundling of contracts, write custom SLAs (Service Level Agreements), trench fiber to your location in exchange for that signed contract, etc. Unless you buy multiple gigabits from your upstreams, if you want to bundle contracts with Tier-1s, you will probably end-up doing it through a wholesaler or other buying mechanism.

Examples of US Tier-2 carriers:

XO Communications
Covad
Paetec/US LEC
Time Warner Telecom (recently merged with Xpedius)
Eschelon Telecom Inc
Cogent Communications
Speakeasy
Embarq
McLeodUSA
AOL Transit Data Network
Covista
IDT Corp.

Tier 3: [wholesalers /resellers of tier 1 and 2 networks]

Tier-3 are downstream customers of Tier-2's. Tier-3 may give you what looks like a good price.....but longterm reliability, performance, and scalability will likely suffer. For piece of mind for your business a Tier-1 or Tier-2 are better choices is almost every case. However, PowerNet Global is a big exception to this rule due to their solid infrastructure and relationships with major players.

Examples of US Tier-3 carriers:

Trinsic
Excel
Primus Telecom
PowerNet Global
Access One Inc.
Splice Communications
Acceris

Whatever business application you need met be sure to consider what tier your available bandwidth providers are in your purchasing decision. Ignoring this factor in your deliberations may result in less than optimum implementation and satisfaction in the end. Make a smart business decision.....leave nothing to chance.

Tip: To help determine just the right Tier and bandwidth solution for your application(s)....and compare multiple providers available at your desired location(s)....we suggest using the no cost consultant services at DS3 Bandwidth

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

For Supply Chain Management.... IT Infrastructure Is Critical

You are the weakest link - goodbye.

No business is an island, and companies working in fast-moving supply chains are expected to operate in a more joined-up way than ever before. Information is increasingly their lifeblood: modern supply chains are no longer simply about transforming raw materials into finished goods, but about sending information as quickly as possible the length and breadth of the chain. This information controls the delivery of materials, the size and timing of production runs, the particular geography in which production will occur and every detail of the distribution and delivery of goods. It is increasingly used to tune the chain to customers' real-time requirements, so that they get what they want, when and where they want it.

"The pressures now placed on any business which works within a supply chain are immense," explains Gill Hawkins, Marketing Director at Star. "In particular, large multinational companies have more and more power over those who supply them with product." Such companies play an orchestrating role within their supply chains. They are investing in IT infrastructures which facilitate the flow of information up and down the chain. "As a result," Hawkins adds, "they are enforcing increasingly high levels of IT connectivity on the people who do business with them."

The Internet is key to such connectivity. It is transforming the way in which many supply chain processes, such as purchase-ordering, are carried out. Large companies are spearheading on-line procurement initiatives, setting up on-line auctions and e-marketplaces, with which they expect suppliers to connect. They use e-mail, which is fast becoming the standard method of communication among supply chain partners. They are Web-enabling their core business systems, so that their information is available 24/7 to suppliers and customers - and they expect their suppliers to do the same. The expectations which they have of their partners' connectivity are rising daily.

The goal of today's supply chain may be the seamless, end-to-end electronic transfer of information over the Internet, but it is not yet the reality. There are numerous supply chain members without the right level of connectivity between their systems and those of their partners. Most companies will have experienced the frustration of having a supplier with a slow, unreliable e-mail system which throws a spanner into the works of their own stock-ordering process or a distributor with an inefficient, off-line logistics system which is unable to inform its customers of delivery delays.

Then, there are the partners with connectivity, but a cavalier attitude to Internet security - risking compromising the integrity and confidentiality of supply-chain information and risking bringing down their customers and suppliers' systems. Since information is so critical to today's supply chains, any company which lacks commerce-enabled business processes, supported by good Internet connections, efficient IT systems and the right attitude to security, may find itself sidelined from them.

"Most companies will have experienced the frustration of having a supplier with a slow, unreliable e-mail system or a distributor with an inefficient, off-line logistics system."

"Smaller businesses are especially vulnerable," Hawkins points out. Their significant customers are unlikely to wait for the small companies' IT infrastructure to catch up. In a global market, large companies can always find new partners which have equipped themselves with the right level of connectivity to play. If companies are to survive in the Internet enabled supply chains of the twenty-first century, they require the right IT solutions. "If businesses aren't careful, they will find themselves making the wrong decisions on IT investment, excluding them from supply chain opportunities," Hawkins remarks. "Getting the right advice when setting up and maintaining IT infrastructure is a business-critical issue," Gill adds.

"Making snap decisions internally about what software, hardware and Internet services to use is a high-risk game." "You know you've got the right IT partner," says Gill, "if it asks about your business, who your customers are and what those customers expect from you, in terms of communications technology. It should understand your business aspirations before suggesting an IT solution. That's when you can tell whether it wants you as a long-term partner, rather than a short-term revenue win."

A company may fulfil all of its customers' connectivity requirements, but still be perceived as the weakest link in the chain, if it doesn't carry its suppliers with it - helping them to adopt best practice, too. The hard fact is that if a company fails to invest in the right connectivity, it loses opportunities for not only itself, but also its suppliers and customers. No company wants to be viewed as the weakest link by its business partners, because, in today's supply chain, it can mean commercial suicide.

For assistance in finding just the right network architecture and bandwidth solution for your supply chain management application(s)....comparing multiple providers available in your specific area....we highly recommend the no cost consulting services from:

"Supply Chain Management Bandwidth Solutions"

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